The human brain struggles between emotion and reason. The fears of change from the known to the unknown, coupled with the comfortable inertia of a routine living often eclipses rational perspectives for change to new systems. Historically, social changes like banning child labour, civil rights to abolish segregation and to allow women to vote in North America took many decades to be realized and successfully adopted.
These cultural symptoms continue to affect our political evolution. Even if many of us recognize our readiness and ability to make our own political decisions, many others prefer to hold on to tradition.
Delegating social responsibility to a few political representatives becomes seemingly more convenient to our busy lives. It gives us an illusion of democracy and a relief from the responsibilities of making political decisions.
In this chapter we address a few common excuses people use to avoid participating on social issues, that is our apathy, insecurity, and cynicism of politicians in general, but specially a cultural resistance to change.
8.1 – One of the objections many people have to the existing BC “Recall and Initiative Legislation”, a rudimentary precursor to PDD, is the concern that recalling politicians may bring an unfair job insecurity to politicians, and consequently we would fail to attract the best educated and trained people to legislate our polices.
Addressing the concern of unfairness to politicians, we must remember that recalling faulty consumer goods is a frequent affair, and although it might be economically detrimental to manufactures, recalling of any product is a well accepted as a consumers’ right. Furthermore, dismissing professionals, trade workers, and public or private employees for their unacceptable performance is also a commonly practiced labour standard. So, even if recalling politicians may not appear to be fair to them, politicians deserve equal labour rights treatment.
The financial security of a politician who suddenly loses a political office, needs to be fairly compensated through government employment benefits, available to all public employees.
Addressing the concern of “attracting the best qualified citizens for the political job”, we may consider the proposition of this PDD thesis, and more specifically the suggestion of the Citizen’s Constitution on chapter 7. That is, when we the citizens, become legislators of our own laws, political executives do not need to be extraordinary leaders. Politicians simply need to properly follow the will of the electorate, not as leaders, but as administrators, or executive managers of government.
Ultimately, to make politicians truly accountable to citizens, we must have the right and the ability to recall them.
8.2 – Many progressive thinkers support, in principle, the idea of public forums, but do not support the voter’s right to recall politicians; implying that punishing a few politicians may not change the unwanted government’s policies.
Although this conclusion may be true under the current representative party system, it is not so under PDD, the fact remains that voting for politicians and voting for policy issues are two sides of the same coin. On the one side is the people’s choice of politicians, on the other side is the people’s choice of laws, policies, or bylaws; therefore, recalling an elected official and recalling a specific government policy are the same expression of the peoples’ right to choose.
Supporting public forums is obviously fundamental. Factual information and discussion period are essential to democracy, but it should not preclude the voter’s right to recall politicians. One action does not cancel or contradict the other. In fact they are complementary and the same in principle.
8.3 – Critics of PDD often comment that, “Politicians need a term of office to accomplish legislative work.” And that, “perpetual recall” would paralyze government work because politicians would be too busy, always looking over their shoulder, and perpetually campaigning to be re-elected.
If politicians are recalled while controversial legislation is being discussed, or before the completion of a project, we should question the politician’s decision and the project itself, rather than the citizens right to recall the politician in order to stop the unwanted decision. Entrusting politicians with the absolute legal authority to make any political decisions, regardless of whether the electorate agrees with it or not during a term of office is in fact, signing a blank cheque for any purpose. It legally means tying up the citizens’ hands, and letting politicians do almost whatever they please during their term of office. The right to recall makes politicians accountable to their constituents.
8.4 – It is understandable to hear politicians, who are potentially affected by recall-legislation, say: “voters should live with their mistaken choice till the next election.” What is most puzzling to hear is ordinary people advocating to punish themselves, for a term of 3 or 4 years, for a mistaken choice, made on one election day.
It is reasonable to expect that people will make electoral mistakes, by voting on quick reactions, or momentary emotional impulses, as we get saturated with media propaganda and misinformation at the last moment of casting our vote.
However, this human vulnerability, should not be the reason to punish ourselves to suffer the consequences of our mistake for years before we can rectify it, ironically when we have the computer technology available to recast our vote and potentially rectify any mistaken decisions instantly.
8.5 – Another common objection to referendum reasonably argues that the wording of the referendum questions as well as the context of the question are often skewed and convoluted enough to produce a leading or unintended outcome.
Referendum questions, usually written by highly educated teams of lawyers, can often be ambiguous and confusing. An example of a convoluted question was the 2011 HST referendum in BC where “Yes” meant to reject HST and “NO” meant to accept HST.
Seth Klein, director of the Centre for Canadian Policy Alternatives in BC, explains how important the context of a question can be, by noting that if people are asked: “Do you want to pay more taxes?” most likely, people are going to say “No”, but if the question were to include a context like: “ Do you want to increase your taxes in order to improve your health care services?” most people have unequivocally answered “Yes”.
One solution, to deal with the wording and the context of a referendum question, is presented by a pilot project at www.nowpolling.ca, where the citizens’ initiatives or questions, are written by the citizens themselves, in their own words, with their own context. The proposed Citizens’ Constitution, on Chapter 7, also suggests that, the formulating of a referendum questions should not come from an exclusive elite, but it should be originated from all citizens themselves.
8.6- The most common objection to PDD suggests that people do not know better, and therefore, when ignorant people are given the right to decide, they will shoot themselves on the foot.
The often cited case is Proposition 13 of the Constitution of the State of California, a People’s Initiative to Limit Property Taxation. The successful proposition decreased property taxes, bringing as a consequence, the inevitable and drastic reduction of public services.
Perhaps most Californians were not fully aware of the self-inflicting effects of reducing taxes. An initiative must be followed by as much factual information about the topic as possible, and a reasonable amount of time for public discussion, should be allowed before the final referendum is executed.
After the public is well informed, and a discussion period allowed, the referendum question can not be postponed indefinitely. A decision must be enacted.
The issue in this case is not whether voters select their best choice; the questions we need to investigate here are: first – was there sufficient factual information available? second – was there sufficient time allowed for discussion? and finally – do citizens have the right and the ability to rectify their mistaken votes when they change their mind? PDD points at www.nowpolling.ca as a potential solution.
8.7 – Many Social Democrats in Canada argue that “PDD” in the context of mass media being owned and operated by businesses’ interests, will be co-opted to serve as a tool for those with the financial resources to direct it.
Matthew Robinson expands on this issue in his book, “Mobocracy: How the Medias’ Obsession with Polling Twists the News, Alters Elections, and Undermines Democracy.”
This influential phenomenon of media may appear to be insurmountable and convincing, but If we believe that we are trapped between a conspiring elite, and a brainless mob, then there is no hope for the evolution of democracy. However, if we choose to believe in a “concrete utopia”, as Economist Ingo Schmidt explained, we don’t abandon our dreams in desperation, instead, we participate in the planning of possible solutions or “concrete utopias.”
8.8 – Politicians are One of the obstacles for change. Former politician himself Gordon Gibson explained that because politicians are the gate keepers of political change, recall and referendum would be in detrimental conflict with their self interests. Understandably, they want to keep the political power in their own hands, and therefore they are generally not interested in changing the very system which authorizes them to rule from above.
8.9 – Finally, we must be aware that politicians who object to extending power to the people, at the same time, have been and continue to gradually delegate their financial and international trading authority to transnational business associations under “Free Trade Agreements”, and financial and monetary cartels. This has been clearly demonstrated by the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank and more recently shown by the managers of the “Euro” ruling from above.
This dependency on a hierarchical chain of command, where most politicians only play a token role of leadership is explained by Nick Cowen in his book “Total Recall” where he shows how U.K. politicians have slowly ceded their powers to ministers, government agencies and the European Union.